In Japan, there are many things considered to be auspicious or bodes well of which one of the most common and popular ones would have to be the maneki-neko (招き猫) which literally means “beckoning cat.” The maneki-neko features a standing cat with one of its front legs raised like a hand which looks like it is beckoning to people. In the past, a cat was considered for the sericultural (silk farming) industry as cats would get rid of rats which ate crops and silkworms. However, with the declining fortune of the sericultural industry, the cat later became viewed as an icon of good fortune for businesses.
Depending on which leg (hand) the maneki-neko raises, the meanings are said to be different. If the right hand is raised, it symbolizes bringing in monetary fortune. Conversely, when the left hand is raised, it signifies bringing in people or customers. However, some say that both hands are rarely raised together as it is seen as a sign of greediness and raising your hands up in resignation. While there are also others who say that both hands raised is an invitation for the protection of one’s home or business.
Most of the maneki-neko figurines are in white but depending on local tastes, traditions, and specific meanings attached to the figurines, the colors can be in shades of black, red, or gold. Among these variations, a black cat is believed to see well even at night thus is considered as a cat of fortune to chase away bad luck. On the other hand, red is a color said to be disliked by the gods of smallpox and measles thus a red maneki-neko is considered to be effective in warding off illnesses. As for the other colors used for the maneki-neko figurines, here are their respective meanings:
- Gold – bringing in money or monetary fortune
- Pink – improving one’s fortune in love
- Yellow – bringing in a good match for marriage
- Blue – improving safety at home and praying for traffic safety
- Green – hoping for success in exams and excellence in studies
- Leopard print – as the word leopard (豹 – hyou) sounds the same as votes (票 – hyou) in Japanese, this is a favorite of politicians to signify bringing in many votes from the electorate
Do you know that there are a number of interesting places, attractions, and events in Japan which are related to the maneki-neko? Read on and check them out during your next trip to Japan especially if you are a cat lover or a fan of the maneki-neko!
In Japan, there are a number of places which are famous for producing the maneki-neko figurines such as Seto City (瀬戸市) in Aichi Prefecture (愛知県) and Takasaki City (高崎市) in Gunma Prefecture (群馬県). Among these, the top producer of these cute-looking cat figurines is Tokoname City (常滑市) in Aichi Prefecture which is one of the oldest and biggest production base among the “Nihon Rokkoyo (日本六古窯)” or Japan’s Six Ancient Kilns. As a result, most of the maneki-neko figurines produced in Tokoname are made from ceramic. In recent years, though, plastic versions have become more common especially those powered by battery or solar power that has the raised hand moving in a beckoning fashion repeatedly.
In Tokoname, there is a gigantic maneki-neko figurine named Tokonyan (とこにゃん) which looks over the town. The name was selected after an open call for suggestions from the city’s residents which was conducted in the summer of 2008. Tokonyan is perched on top of a wall on the southern side of the Tokoname Maneki-Neko Street (とこなめ招き猫通り) and measures 3.8 meters high and 6.3 meters wide. If you look at it from the street below, it appears as if Tokonyan is peering over the wall. In front of Tokonyan, there are two brown ceramic cats looking at it as seen in the photo above. If you don’t look closely, you might be misled into thinking that these figurines in front of Tokonyan are real cats since they are of the same size as their living counterparts!
The Tokoname Maneki-Neko Street is a street that stretches from the Meitetsu (名鉄) Line’s Tokoname Station (常滑駅) to the Tokoname City Ceramic Hall (常滑市陶磁器会館) which is a must-visit for cat and maneki-neko lovers alike. The name of this street is not its official name though as it is only a nickname coined by the city government and locals. On this street, there are 39 ceramic cats on the concrete wall by 39 ceramic artists and craftsmen. As you make your way from the train station to the ceramic hall, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll on this street while seeing and feeling the figurines up close.
Besides looking very different from one another, the 39 cat figurines all have different meanings as designated by their respective creators. For example, the 7 figurines featured in the photo above are meant to wish for a smooth delivery or childbirth process, longevity and health, chasing away sickness, travel safety, protection of pets, prevention or elimination of disasters, and getting rid of troubles, respectively. In order to know more about these figurines before walking along the Maneki-Neko Street, please remember to visit the tourist information counter at Tokoname Station to get a pamphlet.
Tokoname’s fascination with the maneki-neko does not end here as it also uses this popular figure as its yuru-kyara (ゆるキャラ) i.e. costumed mascot character. Tokotan (トコタン) was actually created on the 1st of August, 2001 as a mascot character for the speedboat racecourse in Tokoname but was later adopted as the city’s official character to mark its 60th anniversary in 2014. On Tokoname City’s official website, Tokotan is described as an approximately 2-meter tall character whose hobbies include drinking the local sake using Tokoname’s pottery, speedboat races, and traveling to other places from the Chubu Centrair International Airport which is located in the city. Its favorite food includes the dote donburi (どて丼), seaweed (のり), and asari clams (あさり).
In order to boost the profile of Tokotan, the city government conducted a public call for real cats to be named real Tokotans. Eight cats from various locations nationwide were selected to be part of the group named Tokotan 8 (トコタン8) and presented with the Tokotan certification and name cards. If you are interested to see which cats are part of the Tokotan 8, you can visit this website for the photos and details. Tokotan also has an official Twitter page and LINE stickers so you can see more of this character there.
If you are a maneki-neko lover and want to meet other like-minded people, you will probably be interested to know that there is The Association for Manekineko Japan (日本招猫倶楽部) which is based in Gunma Prefecture. The club was established in 1993 to gather maneki-neko lovers and has members nationwide. As part of the membership privileges, the club provides 4 club magazines to its members for a biennial fee of 3,000 yen. There is no entry requirement and you can be of any age, gender, and nationality. All you have to do is to request the application form from the club and send it back to them upon completion with the membership payment.
The Association for Manekineko Japan Website *Japanese only
Do you know that there is a maneki-neko day in Japan? The Association for Manekineko Japan designates the 29th of September as Maneki-neko no Hi (招き猫の日) because the date is read as “kuru (9) fu (2) ku (9)” (来る福) which means “fortune coming your way.” To celebrate the occasion, there are a number of cities in Japan which hold events and festivals around this day such as Ise City (伊勢市) in Mie Prefecture (三重県), Seto City in Aichi Prefecture, and Shimabara City (島原市) in Nagasaki Prefecture (長崎県).
Among them, the Kurufuku Maneki-neko Matsuri (来る福招き猫まつり) at Ise City’s Okage Yokocho (おかげ横丁) enters its 22nd year this 2016 where there are lots of maneki-neko figurines on display, figurines and related goods on sale, a mass dance which tourists can join in with the locals, and maneki-neko creation experience events between the 17th and 29th of September. Last but not least, don’t miss out on visiting Kichou Shoufukutei (吉兆招福亭) which is a specialty shop selling all types of maneki-neko figurines from various places nationwide!
Over at Shimabara City, their Kurufuku Maneki-neko Matsuri lasts even longer than its Ise counterpart as it will be held between the 17th of September and the 17th of October, 2016. As many as 1,000 maneki-neko figurines will be displayed at the main venue i.e. Shimabara Mizuyashiki (しまばら水屋敷) and around the city. If you happen to be in these places during September, do check out these intriguing festivals held in honor of the maneki-neko!
Ever imagined how the maneki-neko can become exhibits in an art museum? At Okayama City (岡山市) in Okayama Prefecture (岡山県), there is a Manekineko Museum of Art (招き猫美術館) which features these auspicious icons as art pieces. The first director of this museum had been attracted to the maneki-neko figurines which were deemed as a form of commoner’s art in Japan since the Meiji era (明治時代) and began collecting various types of maneki-neko figurines. This ultimately led to the establishment of the art museum on the 10th of October, 1994 featuring his extensive collection.
Since its inception, the art museum has been actively involved in the investigation, research, collection, display, and promotion of the maneki-neko. There are 700 permanent maneki-neko exhibits originating from the Meiji era to present which were made from a variety of materials such as Japanese paper, wood, ceramic, stone, earth, and tinplate.
Other than viewing the seasonal themed exhibitions which will differ depending on when you visit, you can also try painting your own maneki-neko figurines which are made from ceramic. However, do note that this painting workshop which charges a fee of 1,200 yen per person is only available during weekends and public holidays from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm at LUCKY CATS HOUSE, another exhibition space which is located within the same compound. If you plan to visit in a group of at least 15 people, you can contact the art museum in advance to arrange for weekend or weekday classes instead.
While you are here, don’t forget to visit the museum shop which sells a variety of locally produced maneki-neko figurines and other related merchandise. Some of the designs sold here can only be bought at the museum shop so do keep a lookout for these special designs! If you wish to try painting a maneki-neko figurine at the comfort of your home, you can buy the plain version here too and show off your creativity. Other than Wednesdays, Obon holidays, national holidays, and the year-end holidays, the museum is open every day from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Fancy having drinks and enjoying jazz music while being surrounded by as many as 2,000 maneki-neko figurines? Since the maneki-neko is usually described as cute-looking and regarded as an icon to bring in money, you would probably find it difficult to associate it with a bar. But look no further than JazzBar Samurai (JazzBarサムライ) in Shinjuku Ward (新宿区), Tokyo (東京) which has been around since 1979 and is open from 6:00 pm to 1:00 am every day! Besides the usual alcoholic drinks you can find at a bar, you can munch on a variety of dishes from Western and Japanese cuisines such as pizzas, fried rice, salads, omelette rice, and pasta while soothing jazz music is played for your ears. The wide array of maneki-neko figurines displayed here is bound to be a visual feast as well, so do check out this place for an interesting mix of ceramic cats and drinks!
Now that you are armed with so much information about Japan’s auspicious cat, are you ready to explore the intriguing world of the maneki-neko and find out why it captivates so many people? Have fun!